COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions
March 26, 2020
Dear graduate students and postdoctoral fellows,
As Dean of the Graduate School, I reach out to you in solidarity and empathy as we weather the current public health challenge. My staff and I are with you, advocating for you, and at your service. As we adjust to the current situation, I would like to encourage you to:
Take care of yourself. Maintaining connections with family, friends, and colleagues is especially important now. Please know that the Graduate School and all other UTEP services remain available to you, including the Health and Wellness Center and Counseling and Psychological Services.
Be empathetic. Remember that everyone is affected by this challenge and is probably experiencing stress, coping, and adapting. Please be patient, kind, and flexible, and point people to the right resources when you can.
Continue your graduate work to the best of your abilities. Although some aspects of your graduate work may be more difficult now, focusing on your work can help bring some stability in these turbulent times.
To help you navigate graduate life during this time, we created this FAQs page which we will update as needed. Please contact us if we can help in any way.
You are a very important part of the UTEP community. Take good care. Wishing you and yours good health,
Professor of Psychology
Dean and Associate Provost
For general university guidance on COVID-19 measures, please visit the UTEP COVID-19 FAQ.
If you have a question that is not listed here that applies to graduate students and/or graduate program faculty, please send it to Associate Dean of the Graduate School, Dr. Lucia Dura.
Should I postpone my dissertation/thesis defense that is scheduled for this semester?
Answer: If you are able to complete and defend your dissertation/thesis you should proceed and graduate this semester. But, you should plan on defending your thesis/dissertation virtually through Blackboard Collaborate or similar platforms. If you believe a virtual defense is problematic, please contact the Dean of the Graduate School so he can help you explore other options.
Is the dissertation defense deadline still April 24? And the submission deadline May 8?
Answer: No. The dissertation defense deadline has been moved to May 8. The final document is also due May 8.
Is the thesis defense and submission deadline still May 20?
Can I get electronic signatures for my thesis/dissertation defense form and the signature page on the document?
Answer: Yes. The easiest way is to route an email through all committee members that clearly indicates the date of your defense. Each committee member should clearly indicate their approval for both the defense and the document. Once this email chain is complete and has all of the required information, you can forward it to email@example.com. You do not need to attach the document’s signature page.
You may also send the traditional scanned defense forms, or PDFs with electronic signatures--signature images--as attachments to firstname.lastname@example.org, but please make sure that all scanned documents are legible.
I was scheduled to defend this spring but had to stop collecting data. What should I do?
Answer: Seek guidance from your committee on whether the work you have done (e.g., completed studies) and the data you have collected are sufficient for an acceptable paper. If the answer is yes, you should finish. If the answer is no, work with your committee to determine what can be done. This may require you to file an amended IRB to continue data collection. Alternatively, you may want to focus on other aspects of the thesis/dissertation and wait until you can continue data collection (see Research section below).
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, I cannot continue data collection. What can I do to continue to make progress toward my degree until I am able to resume data collection?
Answer: Start by talking with your research mentor about the best steps given your specific situation. We consider the tips below widely applicable or adaptable. In addition to these tips, you consider polishing the writing you have completed, starting a virtual writing group, and/or making a virtual appointment with the University Writing Center and requesting a graduate-level writing consultant.
Here are some tips for making progress while some aspects of your research are limited due to the COVID-19 pandemic.* Not all are possible or appropriate for every student, but whatever your stage or field of study, at least some of the following should be possible:Focus on writing
- Write paper based on complete existing data sets or secondary analyses of existing data
- Write methods or introduction sections for incomplete data
- Create outline or skeleton draft of the results section for incomplete data
- Begin working on thesis/dissertation proposal
- Write the IRB or IACUC proposal for your next study
- Work on citations and references for your papers (or learn to use reference manager - see below)
- Talk with your mentor about the possibility of working on a manuscript that does not require original data such as meta-analysis, review, or methodological paper
- Analyze/code accumulated data
- Learn software that you need to analyze your data
- Make tables, graphs, and diagrams – if data are incomplete, make formatted tables that just need to have numbers entered and make graphs where you can just change the numbers once you know the results
Find research tasks to assign to undergraduates that can be done remotely
Design a new study or set of studies and then write the IRB or IACUC proposals for these studies. Maybe focus on a study that can be conducted online.
Apply for external funding for research or fellowships
Learn how to use a reference manager to help you more efficiently cite papers and create bibliographies. Start with this UTEP Library website.
*The Graduate School thanks Dr. Wendy Francis for creating an initial draft of this section and allowing us to use it.
I’m scheduled to conduct research fieldwork this spring/summer? Can that still happen if I won’t be in large groups of people?
Answer: As of March 23, 2020, graduate student research is still allowed. Please check this Office of Research and Sponsored Projects (ORSP) website for the latest news on research. If you are doing research locally, you can continue as long as you observe ORSP and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines.
I’m supposed to travel to collect specimens this spring/summer. I understand exceptions to the travel prohibition can be made. What is the process to request such an exception?
Answer: University-sponsored travel is canceled until August 31 or until further notice, but depending on your case, it may be possible to request an exception from the Dean of Students Office. First, consider whether your travel is essential. Travel during this time is discouraged because it may not only put you at risk but others as well. If travel is essential for your fieldwork, review the guidelines from the Office of Research and Sponsored Projects and the Environmental Health & Safety travel Information page to ensure you can conduct it safely. Then, submit your request for a travel exception to email@example.com.
What should I do if I am conducting research that involves face-to-face interactions such as interviews, focus groups, and/or participant experiments?
Answer: El Paso officials issued a “stay home, work safe” order starting March 24, 2020 at 11:59 p.m. If your work cannot be conducted virtually, you will need to postpone it. But, talk with your research mentor to see if there is a way to switch to a virtual format and continue, which will most likely require you to file an IRB amendment. If this is not possible, you might work on literature reviews and writing (see the first question in this section for tips on what to do while you wait on data collection). Consult with your advisor and refer to the Office of Research and Sponsored Projects Guidelines.
How should I proceed if I am conducting research that does NOT require face-to-face interactions?
Answer: Research that does not require face-to-face interactions can continue as long as it follows university, local, state, and national guidelines for COVID-19 spread prevention. Please visit the University FAQ page and keep abreast of updates from the Office of Research and Sponsored Projects. For additional guidance, talk to your research mentor.
I’m conducting human subjects research on an approved IRB, but will have to make a few changes to the research protocol so I can continue. What do I do?
Answer: You will need to file an amendment to your IRB protocol that outlines how you will proceed. Once you have IRB approval, you can continue your research. If you have specific questions about the amendment, be sure to contact the IRB coordinator and/or administrator.
I’m conducting human subjects research that provides a direct benefit to the participants. How can I request an exception to the prohibition?
Answer: Depending on your case, you might be able to continue your research. Discuss this with your advisor, and if the research is funded, find out if the funding agency has published any guidelines. You can also contact the IRB coordinator and/or administrator for further guidance.
I am feeling very overwhelmed by the COVID-19 situation. What resources are available to me as a graduate student?
Answer: COVID-19 has brought on new challenges and complexity into our lives. This is stressful. Stress can manifest differently in all of us: physically (e.g., upset stomach), psychologically (e.g., anxiety, depression), or behaviorally (e.g., substance abuse). Support and resources continue to be available at UTEP and in the community. The counseling staff and health providers on campus can help you cope and get on a healthy path. They can also give you referrals to other programs.
UTEP Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) will be closed for face-to-face services but will be available by phone (915-747-5302) Monday through Friday 8-5pm. Their main focus will be on providing crisis/emergency sessions or single-session urgent care services. The Miners Talk After Hours Crisis Line will continue to be available (915-747-5302) after hours and on the weekends. For more information go to the CAPS website.
All UTEP students have access to Therapy Assistance Online (TAO) Campus-Wide Self-Help, which provides interactive behavioral health resources.
The Student Health and Wellness Center is also operating and has updated its intake procedures, please visit their website.
I’m not sure I can afford or find adequate food/nutrition options during this time. What can I do?
Answer: Adequate nutrition is important to maintaining physical and mental health. If you are facing food insecurity, the UTEP Food Pantry (located in Memorial Gym) is available to all currently enrolled students and is open Monday-Friday, 10:00am to 3:00pm. You must bring your Miner Gold ID card to access the Pantry. Please check the Food Pantry website for updates on available supplies and hours of operation. Additionally, Kelly Memorial Food Pantry has prepared special food packs with essentials such as grains, legumes, flour, and sugar. They are centrally located on Florence Street, between Rio Grande and Montana. For more information visit their Facebook page.
I was planning to apply for a Graduate School Travel Grant to support my participation in a conference or professional development event. Can I still apply this spring?
Answer: Given the current restrictions on university-sponsored travel, the Graduate School has canceled student travel funding until further notice.
I was awarded a Graduate School Travel Grant earlier this spring, but my conference was canceled due to coronavirus concerns. Will the University reimburse me for the conference?
Answer: Per University guidance, your first step is to request a refund from the conference organizer. For advice on how to request travel reimbursement from the airlines, please contact the University Travel Office at https://www.utep.edu/travel/ or 915-747-5171. If you have been awarded a Graduate School Travel Grant, you should work with your department/program administrator to cancel any existing travel pre-authorizations and contact firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions related to your award.
I am planning to apply for a Graduate School Dodson Research Grant. What is the spring deadline? Has the application process or the requirements changed due to COVID-19?
Answer: The Graduate School will continue this funding (spring deadline extended to April 3), but we will take into consideration the impact of COVID-19 on requests when making funding decisions. Given current public health considerations, we are not considering proposals for research travel or face-to-face human-subjects research. For more information and to submit an application, visit this page.
I’m an international student who was set to graduate this spring/summer. Should I renew my I-20, which expires soon?
Consult with your advisor to see whether you have a good chance of finishing before your I-20 expires. When discussing this, you should assume that things will be more difficult moving forward (e.g., collect data for thesis/dissertation, a required course might not be offered). If you and your advisor believe that there is NOT a good chance of graduating before your I-20 expires, you should request an extension and be sure to follow all Office of International Programs (OIP) guidelines and recommendations.
Can I return to my home country and remain enrolled at UTEP?
Answer: Yes. but definitely check in with the Office of International Programs (OIP). OIP’s COVID-19 Guidance page has important information regarding the departure process for international students, including a form you need to complete. You can find that information and a link to the form on this OIP web page.
If you travel to a country assessed with Level 2 (or higher) risk by the CDC, in addition to checking in with OIP, please fill out the form at the bottom of this Environmental Health & Safety page to report your return to the U.S.
PROGRESS TOWARD DEGREE
What should I do if I cannot complete my thesis/dissertation within the normal time limit (6 years for thesis & 8 years for dissertation) or the extended time limit (via approval from the Graduate Dean) and am facing additional delays due to COVID-19?
Answer: If you need an extension (or need a second extension), you must submit a request to the Dean of the Graduate school and follow these steps:
- Once your situation stabilizes, work with your mentor to develop a plan for completion.
- This plan should outline major milestones such as anticipated date of proposal defense, completion of data collection, completion of chapter drafts, and thesis/dissertation defense date. You may use the IDP form recommended by the Graduate School which can be found on the Graduate School website.
- Sign and date this plan and then get the signatures of your thesis/dissertation advisor and program director. You can provide electronic signatures, or obtain permission via e-mail by having your advisor and program director indicate their approval through an e-mail chain.
- Submit your plan to the Dean of the Graduate School.